A2 Sociology, secularisation.

This set of revision cards are a summary based on the A2 Sociology AQA textbook, chapter three named Secularisation. 

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  • Created on: 29-12-11 15:59

Secularisation - the facts and the figures

the 19th century was 'the golden age'. Now there is a decrease in proper church going, increase in average age of churchgoers, fewer baptisms and church weddings, decrease in traditional Christian beliefs, inc in rel diversity. 

Wilson: western soc's undergoing long term process of secularisation. e.g. 1960s: church attendances in England and Wales dropped down to 10-15%. Also Sunday School decreased for children. Overall trend still on decline although small orgs have grown. 

Opinion polls:  more ppl say they go to church than they actually do.

Gill: sig dec in belief in personal God, Jesus as son of God and traditional teachings.

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Religious institutions

Influence of rel has declined too. State has taken over many of the functions of the church. Rel is now more relegated to home, family and the individual. 

Bruce: there is a steady and unremitting decline. By 2030, the Church of England will merely be a small voluntary org. 

Explanations: modernisation, rationality and science, ways of thinking, effect of social change --> industrialisation, break up of small communities held together by common religious beliefs. Growth of social and rel diversity. Also, undermined credibility of rel beliefs. 

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WEBER - Rationalisation

Western soc - rationalisation. 

Protestant Reformation began by MLK.

Medieval Catholic worldview dominated Europe; "enchanted garden" - God and other spiritual beings can change the course of events and thus we can influence these with things like prayers, pilgrimages, spells etc.

Disenchantment - brought new worldview. God was above all, created world but didn't intervene after that. So cannot explain events with the work of the unpredictable supernatural beings. So look at natural forces --> rationality, power of reason etc. Therefore, understand and predict how the world works and control it this way. No longer needing rel explanations.

Therefore Protestant Reformation begins 'disenchantment'. Starts of rationalisation.

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Technological worldview - BRUCE

Replaced rel/supernatural explanations of why things happen e.g. why a plane crashes. So rel explanation only survives where tech is least effective e.g when suffering from an illness and medicine has no cure. 

Doesn't make ppl atheists but ppl just take rel less seriously.

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Leads to disengagement of rel - functions transferred to other instits.

Parsons: process of specialisation with development of industrial soc. Separate specific institutions perform functions previously done by one single instit. Rel has become small and specified institution.  

Bruce: rel has become separated from wider soc, become privatised. More abt personal choice. Rel instits lost influence and symbols/rituals lost meaning.

Even when rel does perform functions it has to conform to requirements of a secular state e.g. teachers in faith schools need qualifications recognised by the state.

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From pre-indust to indust soc: dec of community = dec of rel. Given way to large loose-knit urban communities with diverse beliefs and values. Undermined by alternatives available. 


Aldridge: - Rel has source of ID on worldwide scale e.g. Muslim, Jewish.

               - Some rel communities are imagined ones communicating through use of                  global media.

               - Pentecostal and other rel groups often flourish in 'impersonal urban                        areas' and even in diversity (e.g. cultural defence/transition) 

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Religious diversity

Berger says this is another cause of secularisation. 

Middle Ages - Catholic Church held absolute monopoly

Change with Protestant Reformation - Protestant churches and sects broke away and formed new various rel orgs, each with a different version of the truth. now none can claim unchallenged monopoly of the truth. 

Soc no longer unified --> plurality. 

Berger: this creates a crisis of credibility. Diversity undermines rel's 'plausibility structure'. What is true/false becomes a personal P.O.V. + There is a possibility of opting out of rel altogether.

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Cultural defence and transition

Cultural defence: against secularisation theory. Defence of a national, ethnic, local or group identity in a struggle against an external force e.g. hostile foreign power. e.g. Catholicism in Poland before fall of Communism. e.g. resurgence of Islam before revolution in Iran. 

Cultural transition: against secularisation theory. Support and sense of community for ethnic grps such as migrants to a different country e.g. Irish to UK.

These don't disprove secularisation but show that rel is most likely to survive where it performs functions other than relating individuals to the supernatural. There is evidence that rel loses imp of for migrants when they are integrated into soc.

Criticisms: Berger: choice stimulates interest and pptcn in rel e.g. growth of enagelism in Latin America. Beckford: rel diversity will lead to question or abandonment of rel but this is not inevitable. Sometimes it can even strengthen grps commitment, rather than undermining them. 

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Spiritual Revolution?

Traditional Christianity giving way to a 'holistic spirituality' --> personal development, spiritual books, subjective experience: e.g. practitioners such as therapy. 

Study by Heelas and Woodhead in Kendal: two groups                                          1) Congregational domain: traditional Christianity, more of these attended Church.

2) Holistic milieu: spirituality and New Age, less of these actually took part in the activities. 

Because: 1. subjective turn (exploring self), 2. declining trad rels that demand duty and obedience and seek answers for self, 3. evangelical churches more successful than trad ones bec they demand discipline and duty but also emphasise on spiritual healing etc.       =  Spiritual Marketplace: winners are those appealing to personal experience

Heelas & Woodhead: spiritual rev hasn't taken place yet though. Therefore, secularisation occurring in Britain bec subjective turn has undermined basis of trad rel.

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churchgoing more an expression of the 'American way of life' than deeply held rel beliefs. 

1. Declining church attendance: Hadaway: tendency to exaggerate churchgoing since 1970s. Bruce: maybe bec churchgoing is still seen as socially desirable or normative.

2. Secularisation from within: rel 'psychologised' (form of therapy), so fits into a secular soc and thus remeains popular, seeking personal improvement in this world (not salvation in heaven)

3. Rel diversity: growth of it contributed to secul from within, trend towards Practical Relativism - accepting other beliefs e.g. 1924: 94% and in 1977 41% agree that Christianity is the one time rel. 

Counterpart to practical relativism = erosion of absolutism --> soc where ppl hold different views = undermines our assumption that our own views are absolutely true. 

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- rel not declining but changing form.

- secul theory is one-sided (focuses on decline and ignores new rules)

- Evidence on church attendances (falling) ignores ppl who believe but do not go to church

- Rel may have declined in Europe but not in America or globally, so secularisation is not universal

- Past was not a 'golden age' & future will not be an age of atheism 

- Rel diversity actually increases pptcn bec it offers choice. No overall downward trend --> ppl make use of rel in all sorts of different ways.

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